Vista Business: A Regular Guy’s Review from the Guinea Pig Cage

Now that it’s here, the new Windows operating system promises a boost in productivity, effortless integration with small business software and enough bells and whistles to make a gadget freak grin, nod and drool. The high-techies have had plenty of say. Now here’s what somebody just like you found out.

I’m a gadgetholic. This sometimes ruinous malady extends to software applications, because it has a hunger that knows no limits. It must be fed The New. I’m an early adopter. And there’s often a price to pay.

None so steep as when there’s a new operating system in the works. A steadfast PC guy, I’ve beta-tested every Windows OS since Gates’ voice changed, reasoning that it was a way to snag free software – for a limited term. But it’s really about staying ahead of the pack.

I’m no hardcore techie, but have learned a lot the hard way. A willing guinea pig whose everyman use turned up design and development problems – sometimes catastrophic – that contributed a wee bit to a better experience for others. Those wise and prudent enough to follow the longstanding and excellent advice: Wait until the release version – then another year or two.

But when I first looked at Windows Vista, this gadgetholic slobbered like a hypnotized monkey, downloaded the latest beta version, installed it in an aging computer that barely made the hardware cut, and walked happily into that buzzsaw. Blood and hair hit the walls.

Now I’m running the brand new Vista Business release, and can give you a before-and-after review from a regular guy.

One thing’s for sure. This Vista sure is shiny.

The View from the Lab

To spare the gory details (and save you any more reading than necessary), let’s just say the entire beta experience was a hard-edged nightmare, brought up only to make a point (soon).

Some of my hardware didn’t work at all. Some did with experimentation, but always with a hook – like deciding behind the scenes to change your default printer, refusing to print on both sides, telling your disc drives they don’t live here anymore, system crashes. Stuff like that.

But it was so shiny. Those system crashes? No problem.

Drivers, they said. Nobody’s releasing – some aren’t even working on – the software drivers needed to make your stuff work with Vista. But the promises that this would all be worked out were downright magnificent. You’ll be up to your bum in drivers before you know it, they said. Uh-huh.

But here’s the point: Today, on a brawny new computer, Vista Business runs virtually everything I’ve thrown at it, including lots of third-party software. Only a few failed – because their companies (including Plextor) refused to develop drivers for Vista.

Seems a tad thickheaded because it won’t be long before every new PC will be preloaded with it. Inexorably. It is the Microsoft way.

Best of all, Vista did the updating automatically.

What’s Good, Great and enhh about Vista Business in a Nutshell (a Big One, like a Coconut)

Man, it’s pretty. A lot’s been made about Vista aping Mac OS X, but so what? Think the ordinary user cares? Cool is cool. The glassy 3D interface, Aero, finally vaporized Window’s barely one-dimensional stodgy look. Now it’s slick eye-candy, fun and very comely, with what one writer called “the instant appeal of the shiny.”

If you’re familiar with Yahoo Widgets, Vista has its own version, letting you build a “sidebar” with currency exchangers, stock quotes, world time clocks (digital and analog), calculators, news headlines and RSS feeds, a continuous photo slideshow and lots more for productivity – and distraction.

Handy bells and whistles. But how does it meet small business needs?

The Rundown

  • Windows XP’s history of security problems caused Microsoft so much grief that Vista almost goes too far in the other direction. Every potentially risky move you make – like installing any software – is paused while Vista asks if you really want to do this. It can be partially overridden, but why tempt the bad guys? It’s a small annoyance.
  • Windows Live One Care, Vista’s anti-virus and firewall package, costs $49.95 a year after a free trial and can be used on three PCs. I experimented with some third-party freeware, with mixed results. If you don’t want to spend time on trial and error, One Care works seamlessly and may be worth the shekels when your business systems are on the line.
  • It’s much easier now to control user accounts – who can get to what on your network – with a fairly intuitive interface.
  • One of Vista’s best new functions is an (almost) instant search that gets its speed from indexing all your files. System wide. That means e-mail, contracts, Power Point presentations, spreadsheets, graphics and all. Type in a word or phrase, search takes off on its own like a hungry dog, and in a few seconds brings back every instance where it appears. You can also tag your files for sorting and more focused results.
  • When online, rather than clicking on every open-window button on the bottom bar to see what all you’re working on, mouse-over the button and a thumbnail of the page pops up. Better, press Ctrl+G and all the thumbnails show on one screen.
  • When working offline, a similar function, using Alt+Tab, allows you to see all open windows, flat or in 3D, with a slick page-flip option.
  • Got a bone to pick with Windows Contacts – one of the less intuitive apps – which organizes business and personal contact information, including headshots. The first step – entering new contacts – takes a right click that isn’t signaled anywhere. Another accessory, Windows Calendar, is an easy-to-use, simplified echo of Outlook’s.
  • Windows Gallery does a fine job of organizing your photos and handling basic retouching when you’re putting together marketing materials, presentations and such. If these include screen grabs, a new snipping tool lets you choose the whole page or any piece of it.
  • Vista Business makes “shadow copies” of your files to handily pull back earlier versions, but only those created since the most recent restore point it sets in its backup function.
  • Built in troubleshooting tools are easy to use, sometimes offer surprise video tutorials, and pop-up suggestions for fixes – if they haven’t already done it automatically.

Vista Business is an enormous program with far too much to include in a single review. But this should be enough to help you decide whether to make the jump.

If you do, techies have concluded that it’s best to do a clean install rather than upgrading from Windows XP. Three more tools simplify the process (set aside a couple of hours anyway):

  • The downloadable Vista Upgrade Advisor determines if your computer can handle the beast, and what you need to do if it doesn’t.
  • Easy Transfer streamlines moving your apps, files and settings from XP.
  • And, once Vista’s loaded, another tool analyzes your computer’s performance, and calculates a Windows Experience Index Score, a simple number that shows how well it can handle everything Vista.

I’m still poking at MS Office Small Business 2007, Office Accounting Professional 2007 and their integration in and with Vista Business. That’s another story, coming soon. Straight from the guinea pig cage, which frankly could use a good cleaning.

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